Oklahoma native Parker Millsap at just 20 is, frankly, the real deal. Raised in the Pentecostal church by parents with a love of blues and country music this release is a sparse, desolate piece of work that owes much to his personal history and Oklahoma itself.
The first thing you notice about the album is the voice. Millsap is young but his voice seems fully formed, a little gravelly but with range and versatility. The voice suits the songs perfectly, if he gets ragged it’s because ragged is required. The other striking aspect is the instrumentation, it’s sparse, very sparse, an acoustic guitar, upright bass a little percussion with the occasional steel guitar and fiddle as and when required. Is that a muted trumpet on album opener ‘Old Time Religion’? This gives the album the feeling of age. It sounds old but ageless, traditional yet of its time.
At the end of the day it’s about the songs. Luckily Millsap has songs to spare. The aforementioned ‘Old Time Religion’ sets the scene as the protagonist ‘makes his decisions down on his knees’. While on ‘Forgive Me’ a young man questions his faith and the dark, strident, ‘Quite Contrary’ has fairy tale characters heavily involved in the drug trade. The arrangements and sparse instrumentation do give an overall feeling of melancholy, ‘The Villian’is a thing of aching beauty. Not to say it’s all doom and gloom as the clever lyrics are able to paint some light relief on the gentle shuffle ‘Disappear’ when a couple plan to, or more likely, yearn to relocate ‘Leave your mothers china and all our original plans’ the husband advises.
I’ve picked out, what I consider, a few highlights but it’s all good here. I believe the album is getting a UK release on September 1st and then later in the year Parker Millsap is guesting on tour with Old Crow Medicine Show. Now that is a marriage made in heaven.
Update: Parker Millsap / Old Crow Medicine Show Live Review
If you like your Americana to pack a serious punch then step into the ring and go a few rounds with Haint Blue. The Baltimore-based seven-piece, headed by vocalist Mike Cohn, have just released Overgrown, an epic storybook LP that has been ten years in the making. The songs are woven from Cohn’s time spent in the grip of a rigid fundamentalist faith, with which he ultimately cut ties. The songs deal in turn with the wrench of this emancipation; the loss of faith and friendship and the struggle with depression and addiction. Told you it was heavyweight.
When Rhode Island’s Deer Tick returned after a four-year gap they were obviously intent on making up for lost time and released two albums of new material which showcased their ability to switch from punky alt-rock to melancholy Americana without missing a beat. The ‘Twice Is Nice’ tour followed and the artistic rejuvenation of the band continued at a pace. This rush of activity finds a logical conclusion with ‘Mayonnaise’ which acts as both a companion piece to the recent albums and a nice memory jog if you were lucky enough to catch the guys on tour. ‘Mayonnaise’ is a pretty cool release and should prove essential to fans who will find plenty of interesting stuff to get their teeth into. A mix of new material, alternate versions of recent tracks and cover tunes performed on the tour ‘Mayonnaise’ is more a rich hearty stew than a mere condiment.
When David Leask reflects on the reasoning behind his latest release, “6/8 feels like a musical home to me, a signature of time, a sense of place” he sounds like a man at peace with his surroundings and the creative process. It’s hardly surprising then that the six songs on this fantastic EP are so impressive, even if the initial idea seems a little off-kilter. Six songs recorded in a 6/8 time signature might sound a little strange until you realise the great range that 6/8 allows, especially when coupled with superior tunes. If you’re wondering about 6/8 then think of it as a variation on a waltz—a lilt if you will—and you’ve got the idea. Many of your favourite songs will have been written in this time signature, trust me we’re not talking weird Frank Zappa approved strangeness here
As one half of the Indigo Girls for over thirty years, Amy Ray’s feistiness and grit always served as a contrast and balance to Emily Saliers’ tenderness and sheen and this is doubtless what has made the duo such an enduring success. Ray has, by now, rightly earned her place as a member of folk rock royalty and on Holler, her sixth (who knew?!) solo record, her creative fires are burning as bright as ever.
Danny Kiranos aka Amigo The Devil arrives on the scene with ‘Everything Is Fine’ and the one thing I can tell with absolute certainty is that things most definitely are not fine. In fact, we’re as far from fine as it’s possible to get. “This life is a joke and death is the punch line” gives you a good idea of Kiranos’ state of mind as Amigo The Devil. So join me, if you’d like to partake in an hour or so of Southern gothic murder folk country, with an occasional hard rock/metal left turn, because you never know things might turn out fine in the end, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
The really great thing about country music these days is the wide range of music associated with the genre. If you like your country with that Nashville sheen, or maybe look for something a little more pop or bro it’s out there. If you’re looking for a good old-fashioned tune, that’ll bring a tear to the eye because your dog died, or your wife/significant other left you, it’s out there. In many ways, due to the sheer weight of music being produced these days there really is something for everyone. I’m happy to check out pretty much anything under the country/Americana banner but I must admit that you can’t beat an album that sounds old-school and timeless yet current. With that in mind, J.P. Harris has delivered a record that feels right, looks right and above all sounds right.
RGM first encountered Josh Taerk in late 2017 with the release of his ‘Stages’ EP a five track collection full of lyrical positivity and melody. Less than a year later and Josh is back with ‘Beautiful Tragedy’ which takes up where ‘Stages’ left off. I’m pleased to report that despite a serious haircut Josh hasn’t endured a Samson style loss of his creative strength.
S. K. Wellington’s debut EP is the lovingly-nurtured baby of Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Kemmers. It follows a long period of stepping back from her musical endeavours to stop, reassess and rekindle her creative fires. As a result there’s a confident, easy and nothing-to-lose vibe coursing through this four song collection which significantly contributes to its appeal.
Ruston Kelly has one of those back stories so strange you couldn’t make it up. Born in South Carolina Kelly's early childhood was fragmented as his dad worked in paper mills and travelled often for work, so every couple of years the family upped sticks. In his early teens Kelly hoped for a career in figure skating, so he moved to Michigan and joined an Olympic coaching team, which proved to be a very tough and lonely existence. Those dreams didn’t pan out, but with the music of Jackson Browne and his dad’s old guitar for company, the songwriting seed was sown. It wasn’t until his senior year in high school that he discovered The Carter Family and Johnny Cash in, of all places, the Belgium city of Brussels that things really started to click. At seventeen he returned to the USA and moved in with his sister in Nashville. Eventually, in 2013 a publishing deal was signed and Kelly placed songs with Josh Abbott and Tim McGraw — that helped pay the rent — before he snagged his own record deal and released the ‘Halloween’ EP in 2017 to impressive reviews.
For the ninth studio album of their twenty-year career, Lucero were seemingly keen to switch things up a little. After a run of albums with producer Ted Hutt that utilised horns and more complex arrangements to fashion a Memphis soul-influenced sound (they even found room to slip in a tune by Memphis’ favourite sons Big Star) frontman/songwriter Ben Nichols and the band went in search of inspiration. They found it in the rear view mirror as ‘Among The Ghosts’ strips the arrangements back to their very foundations and reveals a darker sound more in keeping with their roots. When coupled with a change in Nichols’ approach to his writing, bought on by a settled family life and the birth of his daughter, the results are impressive. The horns may have gone but the soul remains.
Formed way back in 1985, Cowboy Junkies have become something of a Canadian institution over the decades with a run of albums released to both critical and fan praise. Things started off on a slightly unusual note with a covers album ‘Whites off Earth now!!’ before their sophomore release ‘The Trinity Sessions’ would put them on the world map selling over a million copies. Thirty years on from that particular landmark Cowboy Junkies return with their first album since 2012’s ‘The Wilderness’. This new release has been referred to by songwriter-guitarist Michael Timmins (one of the three Timmins siblings that form 3/4 of the band) as “These songs are about reckoning on a personal level and reckoning on a social level”. With this in mind, and as few bands do reflective melancholia better than Cowboy Junkies, this should be good.
Until now, The Milk Carton Kids have been Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan alone but for their latest record they’ve gone for a full band treatment to fill out their sound. And it’s a lineup to die for, featuring, among others, Jay Bellerose, Pat Sansone, Russ Pahl and Dennis Crouch. Everything remains light-touch however and the duo’s twin vocal and acoustic guitars remain very much in the foreground. The pair have been through some personal changes too in the time since 2015’s hit LP Monterey, with Ryan now a father of two and Pattengale surviving a battle with cancer. Thus, ATTTIDAATTTIDD (even as an acronym it’s a ridiculously long title) sees The Milk Carton Kids reflecting on how they got this far, while simultaneously forging ahead with a new chapter to their story.